Jumbo exchange ban eyed
National Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa will look into calls to stop sending Thai elephants abroad under animal exchange and research programmes, following concerns about their health.
In his first promise made during the first day at the ministry on Monday, Mr Varawut said he too "disagrees" with such exchanges after listening to a petition lodged by 31 animal welfare advocacy groups.
Safe Elephant Foundation president Saengduean Chailert criticised some state agencies for signing elephant delivery deals with foreign countries but rarely making follow-up checks on their condition.
A German zoo earlier asked Thailand to lend an elephant for study purposes, but Thai officials did not bring it back though the loan period had ended, Ms Saengduean claimed.
In another case, an elephant from Kanchanaburi "died on a plane" en route to China, she said, adding that these incidents are worrying as elephant numbers in Thailand are low.
The country currently has less than 4,000 registered elephants, a sharp drop in numbers recorded several years ago, Ms Saengduean said.
If exports continue without strict controls, "Thailand will risk losing more domesticated elephants," she said.
Mr Varawut said elephants, like humans, are social animals.
"Sending them abroad is like exiling them," the minister said.
He on Monday also promised to visit countries that had borrowed Thai elephants to see if they are healthy and get good care.
"I prefer that foreign tourists come to see elephants in Thailand. This will also help boost tourism," Mr Varawut said.